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Thomas Love Peacock's Biography
English novelist and poet who satirized the political and cultural scene of his time. Although he ridiculed well-known figures of the Romantic movement - William Wordsworth‚ Samuel Taylor Coleridge‚ Lord Byron and others - his verbal attacks did not arouse open hostility. Usually Peacock assembles his characters in a country house‚ where they exchange opinions over a dinner table in a merry atmosphere. The 'Socratic dialogues' are leavened by songs‚ hilarious and extravagant episodes‚ and romantic love-plots.

Thomas Love Peacock was born at Weymouth‚ in Dorset‚ the only son of a London glass merchant who died in 1788. Peacock's grandfather was a master in the Royal Navy‚ and the young Thomas Love was brought up by his mother at Chertsey in his grandfather's house. Peacock was educated at a private school in Englefield Green. His formal schooling in Greek‚ Latin‚ and French ended before he was 13‚ but throughout his life he read omnivorously in five languages. With the help of a modest inheritance form his father‚ Peacock was able to live as a man of letters.

In 1812 Peacock met Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)‚ who greatly inspired his writing. Later they were friendly antagonists. Peacock also became Shelley's literary executor after his death. Peacock was drawn through Shelley into a wider literary circle‚ but his knowledge of classical literature also helped the younger poet. Peacock's satirical essay on the value of poetry‚ The Four Ages of Poetry (1820)‚ provoked Shelley's famous Defence of Poetry (written 1821‚ published 1840). Peacock claims that poetry is not one of those arts which require repetition and multiplication - like painting. There are sufficient amount of good poems for all readers and they are far superior to contemporary achievements‚ "the artificial reconstructions of a few morbid ascetics in unpoetical times." Peacock argues‚ that since poets have become semi-barbarians in a civilized community‚ their talents would be more usefully employed improving the world in the new sciences. "The highest inspirations of poetry are resolved into three ingredients: the rant of unregulated passion‚ the whining of exaggerated feeling‚ and the cant of factitious sentiment: and can therefore serve only to ripen a splendid lunatic like Alexander‚ a puling driveller like Werter‚ or a morbid dreamer like Wordsworth." From his own viewpoint Shelley saw‚ that poetry is a force for social freedom. Poets‚ such as Chaucer‚ Dante‚ and Milton‚ are "the unacknowledged legislators of the World." Peacock's real stand is hard to define - some of his suggestions are made somewhat tongue-in-cheek‚ and some of his opinions are not so far-fetched. "Poetry was the mental rattle that awakened the attention of intellect in the infancy of civil society; but for the maturity of mind to make serious business of the playthings of its childhood‚ is as absurd as for a full-grown man to rub his gums with coral‚ and cry to be charmed to sleep by the jingle of silver bells."

After a financial loss Peacock took regular employment. He entered the East India Company's service and became in 1819 an assistant to the Examiner at India House. The next year he married Jane Gryffydh‚ the 'White Snowdonian antelope' of Shelley's 'Letter to Maria Gisborne'. In 1826 she suffered a breakdown at the death of their third daughter. Never fully recovering‚ she was a mental invalid until her death in 1851. The eldest daughter‚ Mary Ellen‚ married and separated from the writer George Meredith‚ whom Peacock helped financially. Mary Ellen died at Capri in 1861. She featured in Meredith's sonnet sequence Modern Love.

After unsuccessful attempts in poetry and the theatre‚ Peacock found his special form in the 'discussion novel‚' in which conversation predominates over character or plot. Peacock's format was later used among others by Aldous Huxley. The first of Peacock's seven novels was Headlong Hall (1816)‚ which satirized the idealistic aspirations of Romanticism. It already presented the elements of his subsequent works. Peacock's favorite setting was a country house‚ a group of eccentric guests are seated at a table‚ eating‚ drinking sherry or ale‚ laughing‚ and embarking on witty or ridiculous discussions in which many common opinions of the day are criticized. Melincourt (1817) was a satire on an early pioneer of anthoropology‚ Lord Monboddo. One of its characters is an orang-outang called Sir Oran Haut-Ton‚ who plays the flute and the French horn. In Crotchet Castle (1831) the central characters tried to determine the most desirable period of history. In Nightmare Abbey (1818) Peacock used well-known literary figures as models: Mr. Losky was drawn from Samuel Taylor Coleridge‚ Scythorp from Shelley‚ and Mr. Cypress from Lord Byron. Peacock's last novel‚ Gryll Grange‚ a satire on the mid-Victorian age‚ appeared in 1860-61. It is considered by many readers his masterpiece.

In the East India Company‚ Peacock's supervisor was the Scottish utilitarian philosopher and economist James Mill. Peacock succeeded him in 1836 to the responsible position of examiner‚ retiring in 1856. Mill's famous son was John Stuart Mill; they both sought to ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Their views also influenced Peacock's interest in social issues‚ exemplified in Four Ages of Poetry. Peacock died in Lower Halliford‚ Surrey‚ on January 23‚ 1866. His death followed shortly after a fire drove him to his beloved library‚ filled with fine editions of Greek‚ Latin‚ and Italian classics‚ which he refused to leave.
Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

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